Moonchildren: A Vietnam War Story

Authored by Kate Kirwan

An image of four students (three men, one woman) sitting at a kitchen table.

A still image taken during the 1972 Broadway production of Moonchildren. Courtesy of the Archives department of Marymount Manhattan College.

Between 1961 and 1975, the United States of America found itself engulfed in the Vietnam war, which had profound effects on the United States and created much disillusionment, particularly with America’s youth.[1] Amidst the turmoil, in February 1972, Michael Weller’s play Moonchildren (formerly titled Cancer) debuted on Broadway for the first time. [2]

The production was met with “enthusiastic reviews and scant audiences,”[3] and later went on to receive several awards, including Theatre World Awards in acting for Maureen Anderman, Cara Duff-MacCormick, and James Wood,[4] as well as a Drama Desk Award for Michael Weller.[5]

The play is set in the academic school year of 1965-1966, in which, “the most ferocious rage of the decade, with its accompanying political and social cataclysms, had yet to boil over.”[6] This year was on the very cusp of the turning point in U.S. war sentiments. While the play is a comedy, its underlying themes were serious issues that were not unfamiliar during this era. Set in an apartment of eight university students, Moonchildren encapsulated the feelings of many American students at the time: a mixture of growing contempt with the escalating war in Vietnam, the desire to remain “relevant,” the back lash against traditional societal norms of “marriage and motherhood,” and grades.[7]

The play not only represents an important and tumultuous time in American history, but also exemplifies the Vincentian mission; that is, this is a play is an intellectual comedy that leaves the audience thinking after witnessing it.[8] The play, through its dark undertones, brings to the forefront an awareness to serious issues that plagued (and still plague) many.  The Vincentian principles in which we “strive to preserve and enhance an atmosphere of scholarly research, imaginative methodology, global awareness, and an enthusiastic quest for truth,” that benefits from “intellectual and artistic resources,”[9] is truly demonstrated through the play’s writing and execution.

Footnotes:

[1] Tucker, Spencer C., and Tucker. “Overview of the Vietnam War.” In Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History, edited by Spencer C. Tucker. ABC-CLIO, 2011.

[2] Gussow, Mel. “Theater; Weller ‘Moonchildren’ Is Staged in Capital.” The New York Times. November 26, 1971.

[3] Rich, Frank. “‘Moonchildren,’ In a Season of Weller.” The New York Times. December 8, 1987.

[4] Theatre World Awards. Theatre World Award Recipients. Accessed March 14, 2017. http://www.theatreworldawards.org/past-recipients.html.

[5] Drama Desk Awards. Drama Desk Awards Archives. Accessed March 14, 2017. http://www.dramadesk.org/awards?field_nomination_year_value%5Bvalue%5D%5Byear%5D=1972&field_nominee_full_name_value=&field_show_value=&field_award_value=All.

[6] Frank Rich, Moonchildren,’ In a Season of Weller.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Barnes, Clive. “Theater: ‘Moonchildren.’” The New York Times. February 22, 1972.

[9] St. John’s University. “Our Mission.” Accessed March 14, 2017. http://www.stjohns.edu/about/our-mission.

References:

Barnes, Clive. “Theater: ‘Moonchildren.’” The New York Times. February 22, 1972.

Drama Desk Awards. Drama Desk Awards Archives. Accessed March 14, 2017. http://www.dramadesk.org/awards?field_nomination_year_value%5Bvalue%5D%5Byear%5D=1972&field_nominee_full_name_value=&field_show_value=&field_award_value=All.

Gussow, Mel. “Theater; Weller ‘Moonchildren’ Is Staged in Capital.” The New York Times. November 26, 1971.

Rich, Frank. “‘Moonchildren,’ In a Season of Weller.” The New York Times. December 8, 1987.

St. John’s University. “Our Mission.” Accessed March 14, 2017.  http://www.stjohns.edu/about/our-mission.

Theatre World Awards. Theatre World Award Recipients. Accessed March 14, 2017. http://www.theatreworldawards.org/past-recipients.html.

Tucker, Spencer C., and Tucker. “Overview of the Vietnam War.” In Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History, edited by Spencer C. Tucker.   ABC-CLIO, 2011.

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